AMSTERDAM, April 7 (Reuters) - Food retail giant Ahold Delhaize said on Tuesday that its sales jumped about 15% in the first quarter from a year ago as customers stockpiled food and other essentials in all its markets because of the coronavirus outbreak.
"Due to COVID-19, demand across our network in the Eastern U.S. and Europe increased significantly in Q1," Frans Muller, chief executive of the Belgian-Dutch company that operates the Stop & Shop and Giant chains in the United States.
Despite the sales boost, the company said the pandemic had also created uncertainty so it was sticking with its full-year outlook for a roughly stable underlying operating margin and mid-single digit growth of underlying earnings per share.
"Although we continued to experience higher than normal sales growth through the end of March, there is increased uncertainty in sales over the course of the year, especially as it applies to changes in consumer shopping patterns and behaviour," Muller said.
The company did say, however, that its free cash flow would probably exceed its previous guidance of 1.5 billion euros ($1.63 billion). ($1 = 0.9179 euros) (Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by David Clarke)
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